Algernon Charles Swinburne (5 April 1837 – 10 April 1909) was an English poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. He wrote several novels and collections of poetry such as Poems and Ballads, and contributed to the famous Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Swinburne wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, cannibalism, sado-masochism, and anti-theism. His poems have many common motifs, such as the ocean, time, and death. Several historical people are featured in his poems, such as Sappho ("Sapphics"), Anactoria ("Anactoria"), Jesus ("Hymn to Proserpine": Galilaee, La. "Galilean") and Catullus ("To Catullus").
Algernon Charles Swinburne
Swinburne aged 52
|Born||5 April 1837|
|Died||10 April 1909 (aged 72)|
|Occupation||Poet, playwright, novelist, and critic|
|Alma mater||Balliol College, Oxford|
|Literary movement||Decadent movement, pre-Raphaelite|
|Notable work||Poems and Ballads|
Swinburne was born at 7 Chester Street, Grosvenor Place, London, on 5 April 1837. He was the eldest of six children born to Captain (later Admiral) Charles Henry Swinburne (1797–1877) and Lady Jane Henrietta, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham, a wealthy Northumbrian family. He grew up at East Dene in Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.
As a child, Swinburne was "nervous" and "frail," but "was also fired with nervous energy and fearlessness to the point of being reckless."
Swinburne attended Eton College (1849–53), where he started writing poetry. At Eton, he won first prizes in French and Italian. He attended Balliol College, Oxford (1856–60) with a brief hiatus when he was rusticated from the university in 1859 for having publicly supported the attempted assassination of Napoleon III by Felice Orsini. He returned in May 1860, though he never received a degree.
Swinburne spent summer holidays at Capheaton Hall in Northumberland, the house of his grandfather, Sir John Swinburne, 6th Baronet (1762–1860), who had a famous library and was president of the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle upon Tyne. Swinburne considered Northumberland to be his native county, an emotion reflected in poems like the intensely patriotic "Northumberland", "Grace Darling" and others. He enjoyed riding his pony across the moors, he was a daring horseman, "through honeyed leagues of the northland border", as he called the Scottish border in his Recollections.
In the period 1857–60, Swinburne became a member of Lady Pauline Trevelyan's intellectual circle at Wallington Hall.
After his grandfather's death in 1860, he stayed with William Bell Scott in Newcastle. In 1861, Swinburne visited Menton on the French Riviera, staying at the Villa Laurenti to recover from the excessive use of alcohol. From Menton, Swinburne travelled to Italy, where he journeyed extensively. In December 1862, Swinburne accompanied Scott and his guests, probably including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, on a trip to Tynemouth. Scott writes in his memoirs that, as they walked by the sea, Swinburne declaimed the as yet unpublished "Hymn to Proserpine" and "Laus Veneris" in his lilting intonation, while the waves "were running the whole length of the long level sands towards Cullercoats and sounding like far-off acclamations".
At Oxford, Swinburne met several Pre-Raphaelites, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He also met William Morris. After leaving college, he lived in London and started an active writing career, where Rossetti was delighted with his "little Northumbrian friend", probably a reference to Swinburne's diminutive height—he was just five foot four.
Swinburne was an alcoholic and algolagniac and highly excitable. He liked to be flogged. His health suffered, and in 1879 at the age of 42, he was taken into care by his friend, lawyer Theodore Watts, who looked after him for the rest of his life at The Pines, 11 Putney Hill, Putney. His friend, named Theodore Watts-Dunton by WG Sebald, took him to the Suffolk coast at the lost town of Dunwich on several occasions in the 1870s 
Thereafter, he lost his youthful rebelliousness and developed into a figure of social respectability. It was said of Watts that he saved the man and killed the poet. Swinburne died at the Pines on 10 April 1909 at the age of 72 and was buried at St. Boniface Church, Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight.
Swinburne is considered a poet of the decadent school, although he perhaps professed to more vice than he actually indulged in to advertise his deviance – he spread a rumour that he had had sex with, then eaten, a monkey; Oscar Wilde stated that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser." Common gossip of the time reported that he had a deep crush on the explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton, despite the fact that Swinburne himself hated travel.
Many critics consider his mastery of vocabulary, rhyme and metre impressive, although he has also been criticised for his florid style and word choices that only fit the rhyme scheme rather than contributing to the meaning of the piece. He is the virtual star of the third volume of George Saintsbury's famous History of English Prosody, and A.E. Housman, a more measured and somewhat hostile critic, had great praise for his rhyming ability:
[Swinburne] possessed an altogether unexampled command of rhyme, the chief enrichment of modern verse. The English language is comparatively poor in rhymes, and most English poets, when they have to rhyme more than two or three words together, betray their embarrassment. They betray it, for instance, when they write sonnets after the strict Petrarchian rule: the poetical inferiority of most English sonnets, if compared with what their own authors have achieved in other forms of verse, is largely though not entirely the result of this difficulty. [...] To Swinburne the sonnet was child’s play: the task of providing four rhymes was not hard enough, and he wrote long poems in which each stanza required eight or ten rhymes, and wrote them so that he never seemed to be saying anything for the rhyme’s sake.
Swinburne's work was once popular among undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge, though today it has gone out of fashion. This is at least somewhat contextual, as it tends to mirror the popular and academic consensus regarding his work, although his Poems and Ballads, First Series and his Atalanta in Calydon never have been out of critical favour. Atalanta in Calydon in particular has been lauded as one of his best early works, written in 1865, before the passionate excesses of later works earned him a sordid reputation for blasphemy and depravity among contemporary critics.
T.S. Eliot read Swinburne's essays on the Shakespearean and Jonsonian dramatists in The Contemporaries of Shakespeare and The Age of Shakespeare and Swinburne's books on Shakespeare and Jonson. Writing on Swinburne in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, Eliot wrote Swinburne had mastered his material, and "he is more reliable to them than Hazlitt, Coleridge, or Lamb: and his perception of relative values is almost always correct". However, Eliot judged Swinburne did not master it to the extent of being able to take liberties with it, which is everything. Furthermore, Eliot disliked Swinburne's prose, about which he wrote "the tumultuous outcry of adjectives, the headstrong rush of undisciplined sentences, are the index to the impatience and perhaps laziness of a disorderly mind."
In France, Swinburne was highly praised by Stéphane Mallarmé, and was invited to contribute to a book in honor of the poet Théophile Gautier, Le tombeau de Théophile Gautier (Wikisource): he answered by six poems in French, English, Latin and Greek.
Swinburne was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909.
Swinburne's poetic works include: Atalanta in Calydon (1865), Poems and Ballads (1866), Songs before Sunrise (1871), Poems and Ballads Second Series, (1878) Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), Poems and Ballads Third Series (1889), and the novel Lesbia Brandon (published posthumously in 1952).
Poems and Ballads caused a sensation when it was first published, especially the poems written in homage of Sappho of Lesbos such as "Anactoria" and "Sapphics": Moxon and Co. transferred its publication rights to John Camden Hotten. Other poems in this volume such as "The Leper," "Laus Veneris," and "St Dorothy" evoke a Victorian fascination with the Middle Ages, and are explicitly mediaeval in style, tone and construction. Also featured in this volume are "Hymn to Proserpine", "The Triumph of Time" and "Dolores (Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs)".
Swinburne devised the poetic form called the roundel, a variation of the French Rondeau form, and some were included in A Century of Roundels dedicated to Christina Rossetti. Swinburne wrote to Edward Burne-Jones in 1883: "I have got a tiny new book of songs or songlets, in one form and all manner of metres ... just coming out, of which Miss Rossetti has accepted the dedication. I hope you and Georgie [his wife Georgiana, one of the MacDonald sisters] will find something to like among a hundred poems of nine lines each, twenty-four of which are about babies or small children". Opinions of these poems vary between those who find them captivating and brilliant, to those who find them merely clever and contrived. One of them, A Baby's Death, was set to music by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar as the song "Roundel: The little eyes that never knew Light".
Swinburne was influenced by the work of William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Catullus, William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Victor Hugo. Swinburne was popular in England during his life, but his influence has greatly decreased since his death.
After the first Poems and Ballads, Swinburne's later poetry increasingly was devoted to celebrations of republicanism and revolutionary causes, particularly in the volume Songs before Sunrise. “A Song of Italy” is dedicated to Mazzini; “Ode on the Proclamation of the French Republic” is dedicated to Victor Hugo; and “Dirae” is a sonnet sequence of vituperative attacks against those Swinburne believed to be enemies of liberty. Erechtheus is the culmination of Swinburne's republican verse.
He did not stop writing love poetry entirely, including his great epic-length poem Tristram of Lyonesse, but its content is much less shocking than those of his earlier love poetry. His versification, and especially his rhyming technique, remain in top form to the end.
|Ancestors of Algernon Charles Swinburne|
Anactoria (or Anaktoria) is the name of a woman mentioned by poet Sappho as a lover of hers in Sappho's Fragment 16 (Lobel-Page edition) , often referred to by the title "To an Army Wife, in Sardis". Sappho 31 is traditionally called the "Ode to Anactoria", though no name appears in it (A. C. Swinburne, quoted in Lipking 1988).
Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote a long poem in Poems and Ballads titled Anactoria, in which Sappho addresses Anactoria in imagery that includes sadomasochism, cannibalism, and dystheism. Lipking (1988) discusses Swinburne's poem.Chester Street
Chester Street is a street in central London's Belgravia district. It runs south-west to north-east from Upper Belgrave Street to Grosvenor Place.
The poet Algernon Charles Swinburne was born at no 7 in 1837, the eldest of six children of Captain (later Admiral) Charles Henry Swinburne (1797–1877) and Lady Jane Henrietta, daughter of the George Ashburnham, 3rd Earl of Ashburnham.
The politician Alexander Perceval died at no 28 in 1859. The businessman and banker George Macaulay Booth was living in the same house in 1936.
The artist Frederick Yeates Hurlstone died at no 9 in 1869.
In 1920, John Godley, 3rd Baron Kilbracken was born in Chester Street.Château de Joyeuse Garde
The Château de Joyeuse Garde is the site of a castle associated with Arthurian legend. Its ruins in the town of La Forest-Landerneau in Brittany date to the 6th century. It was listed as a monument historique on 6 October 1975.
The castle is the subject of "Joyeuse Garde", an 1859 poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne.Cor Cordium
Cor Cordium (Latin: "Heart of Hearts") is the twelfth studio album by American progressive rock band Glass Hammer. The name of the album is taken from the poem of the same name by Algernon Charles Swinburne.The album follows the symphonic-progressive musical direction of the previous album If after the arrival of singer Jon Davison and guitarist Alan Shikoh.Demigod (album)
Demigod is the seventh studio album by Polish extreme metal band Behemoth. The album was recorded during May and July in 2004 at the Hendrix Studios and was released on 11 October 2004. Daniel Bergstrand mixed the record at the Dug out Studios in Uppsala, Sweden during July and August in 2004. The record was then mastered at the Cutting Room in Stockholm, Sweden in August, 2004.The track "XUL" included a guest guitar solo by Karl Sanders of Nile.
The track "Before the Æons Came" is an adaptation of a poem by British poet Algernon Charles Swinburne.
The track "Conquer All" was featured as DLC in the rhythm game Rock Band 2, and has continued to be featured in subsequent games.Dystheism
Dystheism (from Greek δυσ- dys-, "bad" and θεός theos, "god"), is the belief that a god, goddess, or singular God is not wholly good (eutheism) as is commonly believed (such as in the monotheistic religions of Christianity and Judaism), and is possibly evil. Definitions of the term somewhat vary, with one author defining it as "where God decides to become malevolent". The broad theme of dystheism has existed for millennia, as shown by trickster gods found in polytheistic belief systems and by the view of the God of the Old Testament through a nonreligious lens as angry, vengeful and smiting. The modern concept dates back many decades, with the Victorian era figure Algernon Charles Swinburne writing in his work Anactoria about the ancient Greek poet Sappho and her lover Anactoria in explicitly dystheistic imagery that includes cannibalism and sadomasochism.Edmund John
Edmund John (27 November 1883 – 28 February 1917) was a British poet of the Uranian poetry school. His verses were modeled on the Symbolist poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne and other earlier poets. Much of his work was condemned by critics for being overly decadent and unfashionable. He fought in the First World War but was invalided out in 1916. He died a year later in Taormina, Sicily.Henry Treffry Dunn
Henry Treffry Dunn (1838–1899) was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's assistant and a painter in his own right. Dunn's memoirs are a valuable source for the lives of the Pre-Raphaelites. He was paid to be Rossetti's factotum and to create copies of Rossetti's paintings. It has been said that the painting Lady Lilith in the Metropolitan Museum of Art was actually painted by Dunn and only "touched up" by Rossetti.Dunn left Rossetti's house because he was owed his salary. After Rossetti died, Dunn received the money that was owing to him and he would die whilst living with the poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Theodore Watts-Dunton.Hymn to Proserpine
“Hymn to Proserpine” is a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne, published in Poems and Ballads in 1866. The poem is addressed to the goddess Proserpina, the Roman equivalent of Persephone, but laments the rise of Christianity for displacing the pagan goddess and her pantheon.The epigraph at the beginning of the poem is the phrase Vicisti, Galilaee, Latin for "You have conquered, O Galilean", the apocryphal dying words of the Emperor Julian. He had tried to reverse the official endorsement of Christianity by the Roman Empire. The poem is cast in the form of a lament by a person professing the paganism of classical antiquity and lamenting its passing, and expresses regret at the rise of Christianity. Lines 35 and 36 express this best:
Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath;
We have drunken of things Lethean, and fed on the fullness of death.
The line "Time and the Gods are at strife" inspired the title of Lord Dunsany's Time and the Gods.
The poem is quoted by Sue Bridehead in Thomas Hardy's 1895 novel, Jude the Obscure and also by Edward Ashburnham in Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier.Lesbia Brandon
Lesbia Brandon is a novel by Algernon Charles Swinburne, written between 1859 and 1868 but suppressed because considered pornographic in its day and first published posthumously in 1952. It was originally illustrated by Simeon Solomon.Poems and Ballads
Poems and Ballads, First Series is the first collection of poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne, published in 1866. The book was instantly popular, and equally controversial. Swinburne wrote about many taboo topics, such as lesbianism, sado-masochism, and anti-theism. The poems have many common elements, such as the Ocean, Time, and Death. Several historical persons are mentioned in the poems, such as Sappho, Anactoria, Jesus (Galilaee, La. "Galilean") and Catullus.Roundel (poetry)
A roundel (not to be confused with the rondel) is a form of verse used in English language poetry devised by Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909). It is the Anglo-Norman form corresponding to the French rondeau. It makes use of refrains, repeated according to a certain stylized pattern. A roundel consists of nine lines each having the same number of syllables, plus a refrain after the third line and after the last line. The refrain must be identical with the beginning of the first line: it may be a half-line, and rhymes with the second line. It has three stanzas and its rhyme scheme is as follows: A B A R ; B A B ; A B A R ; where R is the refrain.
Swinburne had published a book A Century of Roundels. He dedicated these poems to his friend Christina Rossetti, who then started writing roundels herself, as evidenced by the following examples from her anthology of poetry: Wife to Husband; A Better Resurrection; A Life's Parallels; Today for me; It is finished; From Metastasio.Sadopaideia
Sadopaideia: Being the Experiences of Cecil Prendergast Undergraduate of the University of Oxford Shewing How he was Led Through the Pleasant Paths of Masochism to the Supreme joys of Sadism is a pornographic novel published in 1907 by "Ashantee of Edinburgh": probably Charles Carrington in Paris. It was later published in the United States by Grove Press (GP-421). In two volumes, it is the story of a man who experiences both dominance and submission. It was written anonymously but Anthony Storr attributes it to Algernon Charles Swinburne.The Bibelot
For the word meaning trinket see Wiktionary bibelotThe Bibelot was a yearly literary anthology published by Thomas Bird Mosher between 1895 and 1914. The Bibelot featured the lesser known works of writers such as Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Morris, Arthur Symons, D. G. Rossetti, Austin Dobson, J. A. Symonds, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, and Fiona MacLeod. In 1925 a limited edition, 21 volume "Testimonial Edition" was printed by William H. Wise & Co..The Pall Mall Magazine
The Pall Mall Magazine was a monthly British literary magazine published between 1893 and 1914. Begun by William Waldorf Astor as an offshoot of The Pall Mall Gazette, the magazine included poetry, short stories, serialized fiction, and general commentaries, along with extensive artwork. It was notable in its time as the first British magazine to "publish illustrations in number and finish comparable to those of American periodicals of the same class" much of which was in the late Pre-Raphaelite style. It was often compared to the competing publication The Strand Magazine; many artists, such as illustrator Sidney Paget and author H. G. Wells, sold freelance work to both.
During its run, the magazine published many of the most significant artists of the day, including illustrators George Morrow and Edmund Joseph Sullivan, poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Rudyard Kipling, and authors such as Julian Osgood Field, Bernard Capes, Charlotte O'Conor Eccles, Jack London, and Joseph Conrad, whose novel Typhoon was first serialized therein. Among the magazine's editors were Douglas Straight (1893–1896), Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton (1896–1900), George Halkett (1901–1905) and Charles Morley (1905–1914).On October 6, 1912, The New York Times reported that Waldorf Astor had sold the magazine, "Said to Have Obtained Very Little for It." In 1914, as romantic ideas faded with the onset of the First World War, The Pall Mall Magazine merged with Nash's Magazine, controlled by the Hearst Corporation since 1910, to become Nash's Pall Mall Magazine. From May 1927, the two magazines were again published separately, but they were re-merged after the September 1929 issue, and finally ceased publication altogether following the issue of September 1937.The Pines, Putney
The Pines is a Grade II listed house at 11 Putney Hill, Putney, London, that was home to the poets Algernon Charles Swinburne and Theodore Watts-Dunton.It was built in about 1870. The blue plaque erected by the London County Council in 1926 reads "Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837–1909) poet, and his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton (1832–1914) poet, novelist, critic, lived and died here".The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack is a steampunk novel by British writer Mark Hodder, the first novel in the Burton & Swinburne series; it won the 2010 Philip K. Dick Award. The series follows the adventures of two Victorian-era protagonists based on two historical figures, Richard Francis Burton and Algernon Charles Swinburne, in mid-late 19th Century London.
The series is framed as an alternate history, and takes place in actual locations such as the Cannibal Club and London's East End, involving many notable personalities of the era, such as Florence Nightingale, Charles Darwin, and explorer John Hanning Speke. It includes actual historical events, namely the Spring-heeled Jack case, the assassination attempt on Queen Victoria in 1840, the search for the source of the Nile and the development of Darwin's theory of Evolution.The Whippingham Papers
The Whippingham Papers is a Victorian work of sado-masochistic pornography by St George Stock (a probable pseudonym, also credited with The Romance of Chastisement) and published by Edward Avery in December 1887. It consists of a collection of pieces on flagellation, some of which were contributed anonymously by Algernon Charles Swinburne, including his 94-stanza poem "Reginald's Flogging".William Bell Scott
William Bell Scott (12 September 1811 – 22 November 1890) was a Scottish artist in oils and watercolour and occasionally printmaking. He was also a poet and art teacher, and his posthumously published reminiscences give a chatty and often vivid picture of life in the circle of the Pre-Raphaelites; he was especially close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
After growing up in Edinburgh, he moved to London, and from 1843 to 1864 was principal of the government School of Art in Newcastle upon Tyne, where he added industrial subjects to his repertoire of landscapes and history painting. He was one of the first British artists to extensively depict the processes of the Industrial Revolution. He returned to London, working for the Science and Art Department until 1885.He painted a cycle of historical subjects mixed with scenes from modern industry for Wallington Hall in Northumberland (now National Trust), his best known works, and a purely historical cycle for Penkill Castle in Scotland. He did not paint many portraits, but his striking portrait of his friend Algernon Charles Swinburne is the iconic image of the poet. His etchings were mostly designed to illustrate his books.